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Seattle, Whistler and more Vancouver

Goodbye North America!

overcast 23 °C

With our Bumbershoot 2009 pamphlet and our passport on hand, we headed to Seattle with Pat (trusted driver) and Sarah. I was really excited about seeing Jason Mraz live and Mark was excited to add another state to his “repertoire”. During the road trip, the conversation turned into food and Sarah mentioned that she once had the best burrito at this fast food joint called Taco del Mar which neither Mark or I have ever tried. After crossing the US border, Sarah and I spotted a Lululemon outlet and forced the guys to stop for a quick browse and what do you know… there’s a Taco del Mar right there!! We just had to hop in for lunch; all three of them ordered the famous Mondo Burrito (Mission/San Francisco style) but I got intimidated by the huge mountain rice, beans, meat, sour cream, guacamole, salsa & cheese so I opted for the fish & steak tacos which were delicious.

We arrived in downtown Seattle and headed for the famous Public Market Center where we got to see fishes thrown from one end of the store to another, gigantic lobster that could feed a family of six, taste some chocolate pasta and, of course, have some coffee at the Original Starbucks. Notice how the gypsy on the original sign is bare-chested while the current, more appropriate one has her breasts covered by her hair. (Thanks to Pat for pointing it out, only a dude could have noticed it. Hehe).
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We then headed for the Experience Music Project to see a Jimi Hendrix exhibition, learn about the history of every music genre, watch a live band perform, see Kurt Cobain’s slashed guitar as well as the late Michael Jackson’s diamond glove. The most fun though was the On Stage experience which we got to be rock stars for 3 minutes as the band “24 cups” (Mark came up with it inspiring himself from the 24 Stanley cups won by the Canadiens). With Sarah as bass and backup singer, Mark as keyboard and backup singer, Pat as lead singer and maracas, and myself as badass drummer, we rocked our heads out at the tune of Twist & Shout while the whole thing was recorded on DVD. Even if we were all a tad embarrassed of the final result, we agreeably had a blast doing it and yes, it will hit Facebook soon. Mark & I then decided to brave the wind and the rain and made our way to the top of the Space needle for a 360 degree view of the city, it was worth it.
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It was getting dark and cold so we all decided to forget about the Bumbershoot concert and started roaming the city for a good Thai restaurant and we hit the jackpot. After about an hour of searching, we winded up in this authentic Thai spot and had the best Duck Curry EVER!! Mark & I can vouch for that since we’ve been to Thailand already. Exhausted out of our minds, we drove back to Vancouver with pretty satisfied stomachs.

We woke up the next day pretty tired but determined to make our way to the renowned Whistler for some amazing sightseeing. So the foursome got in the car for another road trip. It was 10:30 in the morning but Mark just had to have a White Spot (fast food chain in BC) burger before we hit the mountains. I had a taste of it and have to admit that it was pretty damn good and they had amazing fries too. The view during the drive was amazing and we also got to make a pit stop at the Shannon falls for some fantastic pictures. At Whistler, we had lunch at the apparently famous Splitz Burger (voted best burger in town for many many years), walked around the charming village, watch some dirt biker go down the mountain and also got to drool over the 20 something kinds of Candy apple at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. We decided not to take the lift up the mountain because, for one, it was pretty expensive (42$/person) but also because it was pretty overcast which meant that there was chances that we would end up seeing a whole lot of nothing up there. So instead, we opted to go to a store which sold pictures for what we could have seen from up there if it were a clear day. It was the second best option, but it was still good enough. On our drive back home Pat stopped the car at a few spot where we got to enjoy incredible views and Mark got to meet a new friend; a cute little seal. That night Mark had dinner with his longtime friend Joel and his new wife while I stayed home with Pat & Sarah and got introduced to their new addiction: True Blood. I have to admit I got hooked in the first 15 minutes.
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Our last day in Vancouver was spent doing boring chores like laundry, cleaning up, banking... We said our goodbyes to Pat & Sarah and got picked up by Ed for some Hong Kongese lunch. We got to enjoy some down time at Ed’s place which gave me the opportunity the finish my first book of the trip. I’ve been reading “The Alchemist” which was suggested to me by my friend Costa and I loved it. It’s a book about following your dreams and your true self; I strongly recommend it! Mark lost his sunglasses; he bought them in Finland and loved them. We went for a Ray Ban model RB4108 search, but nothing. That night we ordered pizza (from Jim’s, very good!) and…. MARK SHAVED HIS HEAD!!! I’ve always known Mark with longish hair but we figured this would be a great time for him to find out if he’d look good bald. So after a bit of persuasion from my part (I’ve always had a weakness for shaved head)and a bit of his own curiosity, he gave in and did it! And the result is A+.
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We got dropped off at the SkyTrain early the next morning, direction: TOKYO!!!

Next blog: the madness that is Tokyo.

Mark & Thanh

Posted by thanh13 17:00 Archived in Canada Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Our introduction to crazy Tokyo!!

Konnichiwa Nihon!

sunny 25 °C

After a 10 hour flight with a huge headache and not enough leg room, we set foot at Narita Airport. Japan has always been a dream destination for both Mark and I and we were beyond excited to finally make it to this island country they call Nippon. Mark was also excited since he took a year of Japanese and was eager to apply his knowledge. Our excitement got cut short when I met up with the rudest immigration officer and Mark got detained at immigration for 30 minutes with a guy from Congo who was apparently escaping his country for fear of execution. Apparently they found it suspicious that Mark didn’t know by heart the address of our apartment in Tokyo and also that he wasn’t travelling with enough cash and relying only on his interac and credit cards. Oh my god, the weirdest is only beginning…

As we walk out of the airport, we met Tokyo’s biggest devil: the train system. Are you kidding me? Is it even supposed to be easy, user friendly or even logical? Well after 3 long hours, we miraculously made our way through the maze to get off at our station Nishi-Ogikubo. We met up with our “landlord” who showed us to our rented apartment; it’s this tiny but almost perfect orange-themed 1 ½ fully furnished with everything we could need for our stay. It’s also 30 seconds from this amazing supermarket Seiyu that sells everything from clothing to so many varieties of foods that we could never taste it all. We ventured our way through the aisles of the supermarket and bought our first Japanese dinner: obviously, some sushi & sashimi. I don’t know if we were bias because we’re in Japan, but it tasted soooo good.
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We woke up the next morning at 3AM due to the stupid jet-lag, chilled for a couple hours and then made our way to the famous Tsukiji fish market; this is where they apparently trade 20 million dollars worth of fish daily! We arrive around 7AM so we missed all the action which usually happens between 5AM & 7AM and it’s apparently crazy. Surrounding the fish market are tons of counters that you can go and have the freshest fish ever. After waiting in line (with mainly Japanese tourists) we sat down to devour this huge bowl of rice topped with the thickest, freshest pieces of tuna, salmon, crab, scallops that we’ve ever tasted. We then made our way to the Tokyo Dome which is home to the Tokyo Giants and I’m telling you, Mark was in paradise. He not only enjoys the sport, but also loves attending sporting games all around the world. So after we went through a couple merchandise stores (Mark bought some Giants chopsticks), toured the Baseball Hall of Fame, we managed to score some amazing tickets to next Wednesday’s game. On our way home for a much needed afternoon nap, Mark had his first Japan’s Mc Donald’s meal.
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That night, we went to crazy crowded Shibuya with all its thousands of neon, shops, restaurants, coffee shops, it was quite the spectacle (oh yah, Times Square has got nothing on them). We walked around to soak in the madness but also to find somewhere to have a traditional Japanese dinner. Well even though this neighborhood looked like it could never run out of restaurants to try, everything was booked!! It was Friday night and after walking for what seems to be forever, we stumbled on this Isakaya joint that was owned by a bunch of friendly young guys, the cook looked like he was probably in his early 20s. We were told to remove our shoes at the door and took our place along the bar. That night we had some Korean inspired dishes, but also summoned the courage (well maybe just me, Mark didn’t need courage at all) to try some chicken sashimi (oh yeah, that means that it’s raw!) and some whale meat. The food was amazing and it seems to me that eating barefoot just added to the experience.

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So after only 2 days in Tokyo, these are a few things I’ve noticed:

•They have a very complicated train system, but after a couple days, we finally got the hang of it.
•The trains get so crowded at times , there’s men with white gloves ready to squeeze people in.
•Everyone either play game on their phones, or read or sleep on the train. We’ve seen people sleep while standing up and holding on to absolutely nothing. We’ve also seen people miss their stop because they were sleeping.
•Japan is the land of sushi but also of tempura (they love everything fried), ramen, soba & udon noodles (which you order from a vending machine before stepping in the restaurant), curry, vending machines and crepes (stuffed with fruits, whipped cream, ice cream, cheesecake….)
•Guys here have better haircuts and better waistline than me.
•Girls here love to dress sexy in a school girl gone bad kinda way (Mark has been loving it) and they seem to be obsessed about looking Caucasian.
•I think Japanese people think they might die if they eat a sandwich with the crust since every sandwich sold is crustless.
•Every restaurant has their menu displayed in the front in the form of plastic food model, I have to say, I love this idea.
•People here are extremely polite. If you enter a store with 10 staff member, they will ALL turn around and welcome you. Yes, it’s very weird when you’ve been accustomed to Montreal’s borderline rude service staff.
•They are sickenly law abiding citizens. Would it really kill you to throw a piece of garbage on the ground? or to steal something? come on...By the way, it’s impossible to find a garbage can anywhere.
•People seem to be rushing all the time, where the hell are you running to at 11AM?

More of Tokyo to come…

Mark & Thanh
GO HABS GO!!!

Posted by thanh13 17:20 Archived in Japan Tagged round_the_world Comments (2)

Japanese food in Pictures

Let's let the images do all the talking


View Thanh and Mark's RTW Adventure 2009-10 on malmn's travel map.

Hello everybody! (just like Dr. Nick Riviera (Simpsons) would say it - lol!) or Konnichiwa to our Japanese friends. :)

Ok, well Thanh has been doing alot of the writing lately (she will finish Tokyo soon), and that's because I have been taking all the pics. So far, we have over 1200 pictures taken, and that doesn't include the Maritimes and Vancouver/Seattle! Crazy!!!

Anyhow, eating is basically our favorite part of travelling. We are both willing to try anything and everything. So here is a compilation of some (alot) of the food we have come across so far on this Japanese leg our of adventure. There is no particular order to this and unfortunately I haven't described them all (I did attempt do it but it didn't show up on the page :(). Let's let the pictures do the talking and please feel free to ask us questions about the pics.

Itadakimasu!

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Posted by malmn 04:48 Archived in Japan Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Crazy, weird and amazing Tokyo!!

Final days in the mega metropolis

sunny 27 °C

12/09

This morning, while I was updating our blog, Mark took advantage of it to catch up on his beauty sleep so when he woke up, he was in great shape to cook his first Japanese meal: Golden Curry!! It’s actually a quite popular meal here and Mark’s version was very successful. After the home cooked meal, we strolled around Ginza which is a high class shopping district. It’s like a whole city version of Holt Renfrew but a thousand times classier. I’m really curious to know what Japanese people do to be so loaded; I’ve never seen such a busy Louis Vuitton ever! So there are fancy department stores everywhere and obviously, I can’t even afford a pair of socks there, but the treasure in the basement of all of them is that they all have a huge market that sells everything from ready made Japanese meals, to perfect looking deserts to things that we still don’t know what they are, and most of the stands let you try their product to tempt you. You can have a whole meal in there. Products are a bit on the expensive side, but who says you have to buy anything when they are so excited to let you try it for free!! But we did end up buying this cake made on the same apparatus as you use to roast a pig, they call it the Baumkuchen cake and it costs 10CAD$ for a 1 person serving (OK, totally worth the price, it was amazing). It was pretty cool to see it being made and Mark was taking tons of pictures when this lovely and polite Japanese woman asks him not to take any pictures of this shop. Really? You, a Japanese person is telling me not to take any pictures? That’s a bit hypocrite don’t you think?…wait til I see one of you in Montreal . We also went up the Sony building which is about 6 floors filled with Sony products, they had EVERY single Sony product on display and it was pretty cool to see some products that are not even out yet. That night we walk around forever to find a restaurant, it seems like all of them were Ramen places and we just didn’t feel like it. So after we what seems like an eternity of walking around, getting impatient at each other, wanting to kill each other, we ended it up in this very unmemorable restaurant really not worth mentioning.
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13/09

Today, we were pretty exhausted so we just chilled in our miniature apartment until lunch time when we went to walk around the neighborhood in search of a quick meal. On our way, we saw tons of kids pulling this giant pig statue, we didn’t know what it meant, but it made us laugh. So for lunch we ended up going to this Soba/Udon place which you order your meal outside of the restaurant at a vending machine. I pressed the wrong number and got something unexpected; soba curry, it was a pleasant mistake. I then dragged Mark in this teenage girl infected area; the famous Harajuku where you can see tons of chicks dressed in weird costume like weirdo princess, weirdo goth or weirdo 12-year-old prostitute. This place was more packed then Crescent street during Formula One (well maybe not this year…) After walking around for a while, we stumbled on this really cool modern looking mall with tons of I-can’t-afford-anything-in-this-place stores. I’m telling you, it’s really not fun to be broke in Tokyo. After wishing almost-death to all those really rich Japanese people who seems to do nothing but freaking shop all day, we took the ever crowded train to Shinjuku which is a pretty big neighborhood in Tokyo. This time, I knew exactly where to go to avoid the wanting to kill each other from last night; I took a suggestion from the Lonely Planet to go have some Sukiyaki in Times Square building and we liked the idea that the restaurant was mentioned as a “budget” place. Well after spending 230$ for 6 very thin slice of beef and a few appetizers made for midgets, I have to disagree with that mention even though the meal was extremely delicious. Well of course we had to take the “High quality beef” (yes that’s how they mention it in the menu) which is so fat that it just melts in your mouth and the taste is just out of this world. I have to say one thing; even if the waitresses here don’t work for tips (since there’s no tipping at all in Japan), the service is phenomenal, they really treat you as if you just gave them a kidney, it’s quite impressive.
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14/09

Having visited Tokyo horizontally for the past days, we decided to go vertically today by going up to the observatory of the Tokyo Tower. After taking the elevator up 250 meters, we got to see the whole city of Tokyo which is quite impressive. This is the densest city I’ve ever witness; from up there, everything was so tight that you couldn’t even see the cars or people in between the building. We had lunch there; Mark got McDs & I ordered the wrong thing again and ended up with ice cold noodle soup. I’m cursed. We spent the afternoon in the Akihabara district which is filled with tons and tons of electronics, comics & videos games which also means tons and tons of geeks with tons of time in their hands since they don’t have girlfriends. We ventured our way into some arcades and Mark got to try a few games including this one soccer game with only Japanese instructions. After spending 30$ on something he barely understood, he scored a goal and was happy. After being sick of laptops, cell phones and geeks, we grabbed some sushi & sashimi on our way home and spent the night watching episodes of Seinfeld.
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15/09

I wondered how long it would take, but Mark is officially missing the Canadiens today. The pre-season games are about to start and he obviously would love to be part of the action and enjoy his season tickets. Well letting them go to explore the world is not too bad of a trade especially that he found a dozen of website to watch all the games live so I doubt he’ll be missing any of the action. So after he’s caught up with all the Canadiens news, we went to the Tokyo National Museum. I’m not a big museum person, but I was quite impressed with this one. I love how Japanese people display their items, it’s as if each and every single one of them deserve a spotlight. It’s not like all the other museums that I saw that they just put a gazillion items in one display and after you’re done with the museum, you feel like you’ve seen 10% of it. I can say that I have admired every single thing on display at the National Museum and it was quite memorable. We had a quick soup lunch and then went to shop at the only place that I can afford; Uniqlo. Yes I ripped my jeans (Nooo it’s not due to all the food we’ve been eating) and since GAP jeans sell for 200$/pair in Tokyo, I decided to go with a cheaper alternative, which is actually not bad at all. Well the jeans ripping didn’t stop us from having fast food (from Lotteria) for dinner along with a banana chocolate whipped cream crepe for desert. On our way home, we also grabbed some salty snacks & beer to go along with another Seinfeld marathon. Ok, so today I made my first subway mistake, I’ve been so good for so long…damn express train that doesn’t stop at every station.
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Everyone is weirded out by us here since they all assume that I’m Japanese (yes, because I’m yellow) so they talk to me in Japanese and then they think I’m a retard cuz I have this dumb look on my face since I don’t understand a thing. But then Mark turns around and answers them in Japanese and then guess who has the dumb look now…hehe.

16/09

So today is our last full day in Tokyo before we make our way to Kyoto so we had to do the dreaded cleaning, laundry, packing… But then Mark got a very special visit; Shuhei. Shuhei used to be an exchange student at Mount Allison University and Mark used to tutor him English. They became really good friend and haven’t seen each other in close to a decade. Shuhei now lives in Akita and made the special 6 hour trip down to Tokyo just to visit Mark which made him totally ecstatic. Now we were really excited since we had an insider who can show us the really good places. First he brought us to eat at this yakitori place which was so cool, it was filled with only locals and the food was super cheap and super good. After about 20 chicken meat, intestines, livers and hearts brochettes downed with a few beers, we stopped by this place to try the very popular beef croquettes (beef, potatoes, battered & fried…mmmmm). Then after a bit of shopping where Mark finally found his pair of Ray Bans, we stopped at this place where you can go in a booth and take silly sticker pictures a la Japanese style. It was so much fun just to goof around and imitate those ever popular Japanese Hello Kitty poses. That night the boys went to the Tokyo Dome to enjoy a baseball game between the Tokyo Giants and the Kyoto Tigers (Shuhei’s team). I swear I haven’t seen Mark so happy in a long time; he came back with the biggest grin on his face and the biggest alcohol smell on his body. He couldn’t stop talking about the game, the crowd, the chants and the feeling of having witnessed it all, it was totally magical for him. He took so many videos of the chants and forced me to watch them all. It was quite something, but did you really have to take 12 videos of it? Well if you’re interested he did post the best one on his facebook page. That night, the slightly intoxicated Mark dragged me down the street to try Japan’s famous MOS burger, I really loved it.
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So that’s it for Tokyo, tomorrow we will make our way to Kyoto…
Mark & Thanh

Posted by thanh13 18:46 Archived in Japan Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Oh Kyoto...

A city with a pace of life quite different than that of the megapolis up north

sunny 28 °C

17/09

Today we had sashimi for breakfast, said goodbye to our Tokyo orange apartment and our Seiyu grocery store and headed to the train station direction Kyoto. We had one last lunch with our friend Shuhei before parting ways; him back to Akita and us on our really cool shinkansen (high speed train) towards Kyoto. Mark was really excited for the shinkansen and it turned out to be such a slick looking train, and very comfortable too. It only took around 2 hours to travel the required 515 km and I saw none of it since I was probably drooling and snoring the whole time. We took a cab to our new apartment and poor driver got lost for quite some time and we don’t blame him since the addresses here are so screwed up! For a nation that is so organized and disciplined, how do they manage to have such an illogical address system? The numbers are not even in order! That’s why most business cards here come with a little map. Our new home for the next week turned out to be very nice, roomy & with a bidet!! Mark and I are becoming really big fans of it and we’re starting to feel the need to install one in our Montreal apartment when we come back. After settling in, we walked to our new grocery store called Happy something, I just remember that it was owned by IGA, and bought tons of goodies for dinner. To digest it all, we took this long walk to downtown GION which is really bright and lively at night; it’s basically filled with shops, restaurants, karaoke bars and arcades. During our walk I noticed that no one in Kyoto lock their bike, even overnight. That’s just how trustworthy and honest the Japanese people are, it’s impressive and a tad nauseating. Mark bought a piece of strawberry shortcake on the way home and the owner took so much care wrapping it and putting paper stoppers to make sure the piece of cake doesn’t move and also puts in a little icepack so that the cake stays cold until we get home. One word: WOW!
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So my first impression of Kyoto is really positive, even though is it hotter than Tokyo, it is much less chaotic and people don’t seem to be rushing too much. People are the same though, very polite and classy, I also find they have very good taste as much in clothing than in the home furnishing. My only complaint for now is that people are too by the book, so a bit anal.
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18/09

Mark listened to the hockey game while I mapped out our first sightseeing day, I was really excited because contrarily to what I thought, there are tons to see in Kyoto. We started out with the Higashi temple which is one of the biggest wooden structures in Japan. The temple was quite beautiful, but the drilling & renovation going on was taking away from its peacefulness. After a pork & eel on rice lunch (it arrived in 2 minutes and was sooo delicious) we then walked 10minutes to the Nishi temple which is a much smaller one and less popular one. After walking around the temple Mark & I were the only ones there, we each took our own hall of the temple to relax. I was just sitting down on the tatami floor enjoying the views of golden flowers, the scent of incent and the sound of silence. I got that zen feeling right away, first my conscience eliminated all negative thoughts in my mind and all I could think about is how grateful I was to be at this exact location. And then, I thought of nothing and heard nothing and felt nothing… Mark had a similar experience on his side of the temple. Now totally relaxed, we walked to the Kyoto tower to get a glimpse of the whole city. The tower is 108 meters high and up there, we got to see how this city is surrounded by mountains, how it is really not that big and also how extremely dense it is (there’s an actual law against sky scrapers in Kyoto to avoid becoming too modern). We stopped at the Sensei garden on our way home and witnessed peace & serenity; you can’t really get mad in a place like this. There were green spaces, tons of flowers, flowing water and huge live fishes. Just before arriving home, we stumbled on this place which totally made Mark’s day: the first Nintendo office building when it was just Nintendo Playing Cards (1880). I don’t know how many pictures Mark took of the building (since you can’t go in) and how long he spoke about it afterwards, but apparently it’s a huge deal. I just look at him with that blank look: I don’t get it. Today, we saw placed neatly on a concrete wall on the side of the street, a little action figure with a little note taped on it; it was Japanese writing with a date on it. I think someone found the lost toy and left it there with a note so hopefully the owner will come back to that exact location and retrieve it. Really? Do people still do that in this Barbarian world of ours? I’m starting to think Japanese people are perfect. Do you know what’s the biggest drama going on in Japan right now? Some Pop star was arrested for possession of some stimulant and had to go jail for 40 days and then apologize to the nation. Wow, is that the worst thing they could find to report on?
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That night we walked on the cutest street of all Asia, it’s this very narrow street called Pontocho and it’s filled with tons of traditional Japanese restaurant and the odd strip clubs. We choose this grill-it-yourself restaurant and had this 5 course meal with the star being the Mishima beef. This beef is higher quality that the Kobe beef and apparently they only kill about 20 of these animals per year. The meat was so tender and fat, it kinda just dissolved in your mouth at the same time as it dissolves the money in your pocket. We really have to lower our dinning standards or else we’re not gonna last too long on this trip. We had the famous Japanese mille-crepe on our way home. (Damn Jeanne and Lionel for introducing us to this fantastic desert)
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10/09

Canadiens 3-1 against Ottawa, Mark was in an excellent mood. We went to visit Nishiki market which is the biggest market in Kyoto. It’s kinda like the Jean Talon market but ten times cleaner (which is impressive considering the specialty is fish) and also they let you try almost everything. We stopped for lunch at this tiny restaurant off the market since we saw a picture of a curry ramen dish that made us both salivate. We both ordered it and it tasted as good as it looks except for one tiny detail; it was frozen cold. And the dish is meant to be served like that since there were ice cubes placed at the bottom of the bowl. The taste, excellent, the coldness, totally weird. After lunch, we sat by the long river that runs through most of Kyoto to watch some birds fish their own lunch. We sat there amongst other young loving couples and it dawned on us, we’ve never seen a couple kiss in public, maybe it’s frowned upon and we don’t know. Yah, maybe we should stop our PDA, it might be disturbing to them.
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That afternoon, we visited the Kenninji temple with its perfectly drawn gardens, its comfortable tatami floors and its impressive twin dragon ceiling. Most temples here you have to remove your shoes before entering and I have to admit that there is something quite soothing about walking barefoot on tatami floors and bamboo floors. After leaving the Kenninji temple, we hiked our way uphill to the Kiyomizu temple. This one was PACKED!! The street leading to the temple was crowded with tourists coming in and out of the hundreds of souvenir, deserts and food shops. We also got to see a few geisha’s with their super high traditional wooden sandals (how the hell did they get up the hill with those!) This temple was humongous with tons to see and experience; we washed our hands and drank some pure water for health, longevity and success in studies (?), walked the blind walk of love for eternal love and bought cheesy love charms to deepen our relationship (they also have the traffic safety version. Hehe. Maybe I needed that one more than the love one.). So after today, Mark and I should be invincible.
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I think I should start letting Mark write the long from now on since I’ve noticed mine getting longer and longer…

M & T.

Posted by thanh13 08:02 Archived in Japan Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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